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SXSW 2021: “The Thing That Ate Birds”


Rating: 4 out of 5.

It’s human nature to try and show one’s strength whether, in reality, he or she has it or not. It’s the display of self-assurance where they mostly fail to convince others. But when the day comes to prove themselves, they are strong enough to defeat any enemy. And in most cases, things do not take an unpredictable turn.

Abel (Eoin Slattery) is not someone who is willing to change. He does not feel he needs to. He can drop a glass and won’t bother cleaning it. And it’s alright if his wife (Rebecca Palmer) accidentally steps on it, as long as Abel fulfils his ego. When he goes out, he finds another dead bird; he is not happy and is determined to fix it as soon as possible. But when Abel meets a terrified creature hiding behind the branch, hoping the evil human won’t notice him, things take a turn for the worse for the bird. Without thinking twice, he shoots the creature down. And to make sure it’s dead, in cold blood, he pulls the trigger two more times, not realizing what he just did will backfire at him.

From ALTER, a master of exploring stories of the human condition through various stands, in collaboration with Gunpowder & Sky (an independent studio creating and distributing feature films, series, short-form content, podcasts and channels, bridging digital and traditional entertainment), “The Thing That Ate Birds” shows what misuse of power can do and how far fear can go. We know that Abel is not capable of making rational decisions. His self-centric persona always sees him being the dominant one. That’s why he stepped on the wounded creature to show who’s the boss. But that will be Abel’s biggest mistake ever.

Written and directed by  Sophie Mair (Ella, And the Baby Screamed) and Dan Gitsham (Ella, And the Baby Screamed), this wonderfully narrated short, in a perfect way, exemplifies what it means when you mess with something that has nothing to lose. It is a shift of power when one miscalculates things and the other rises above him. It’s about something mysterious that, just out of courtesy, eats birds only because it is polite. But that does not mean it cannot bring anything bigger and heavier than birds. Because if he does not want, it does not mean it cannot. So both the creature and Abel will learn a lot about each others ability. One of them, however, won’t be lucky enough to enjoy the fruits of the lesson.  

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